Scott pushes lawmakers to pass domestic terrorism bill

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) As the Poultney teen allegedly behind the Fair Haven Union High School shooting plot is set to walk free, the governor is calling on lawmakers to pass a law that would keep similar offenders behind bars.

A judge on Tuesday afternoon is poised to consider Jack Sawyer's bail and conditions of release. That follows a Vermont Supreme Court ruling last week that found Sawyer's alleged plot to shoot up his former school wasn't enough to hold him behind bars.

The ruling in the case came as a blow to many and put the state's case against the 18-year-old in jeopardy. Lawmakers are now working to clarify what it means to attempt a crime so that the Poultney teen's actions would be considered an attempted crime in the future.

"We really don't have a good statute right now that covers the type of conduct that Sawyer was engaged in," said Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Anderson.

Anderson, a former U.S. attorney, worked on the administration's proposed domestic terrorism law. It defines domestic terrorism as plotting to cause death or serious injury to more than one person. The penalty -- up to life behind bars.

"I wouldn't get too hooked up on the name. I think whether it's called domestic terrorism or threatening or something else, it really is creating a statute that addresses this type of conduct," Anderson said.

Gov. Phil Scott wants the bill sent to him this week, but key lawmakers say it won't move that quickly, if at all. "That will take quite a bit more time to develop and to make sure that we protect people's rights, particularly innocent people," said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County.

The Senate and House Judiciary Committees said they will be focused on addressing last week's court ruling, and passing language clarifying what counts as an attempted crime.

Anderson says lawmakers can address that -- and the proposed new law -- on the governor's tight timeline. "You draw the statute narrowly. Number two -- you rely on prosecutors to use common sense and charge individuals engaged in the type of conduct we saw with Sawyer engaged in. So, I think there are any number of fail-safes that could be built into the law," Anderson said.

No law passed now would apply to Sawyer's case. The U.S. Constitution says you can't pass a law after the fact that would legally impact the case.